Bring PC Back, please!

I know at the moment it’s cool to bash political correctness, you know good ole PC. It seems that no one wants to watch what he or she says any more. It’s okay to bash, lie, and verbally maim anyone these days. Everyone just wants to let it rip. Hurt feelings be damned. The truth and social graces, the hell with them. Little kids taking note, who cares? Now, I’ll be the first to admit that PC had gotten a little too carried away. Right? Calling someone mentally-challenged versus, just plain old stupid is just plain wrong. Stupid is stupid, right? And I still know people who’re confused about the whole little people vs. midget deal (BTW, it’s little people) But you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. A dial back was called for, not a complete overhaul of how we treat one another. There’s no doubt that an unchecked boorishness is afoot in the country and I’m beginning to fear where this thing might be headed. Civility was not and should not be the enemy. I’m raising two boys who I’m trying to prepare to become respectable gentlemen one day. This is getting increasingly more difficult when they see on television, and not comedic kids shows mind you, but real life grown people, politicians, activists, business leaders, just about everyone it seems, acting and sounding like pure jerks. It’s got to stop. I prefer sooner, rather than later. But in the meantime, I’m not waiting for this boorish thing to run its course, I’m jumping off now and heading on back to PC-ville. I guess I’ll see the rest of y’all if and when you decide to join me.

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Despite all, Humans Yearn to connect

Right now someone, somewhere is sitting down, at a table perhaps or his or her favorite chair, fingers tapping away at a computer, or scribbling away with a pen in a notebook, crafting words that will soon resonate with many people. This artist will tap into that thing that connects us all. The thing that is nameless and sightless and odorless, yet we all know it exists. That thing that binds spirits. The thing that can get perfect strangers on the same vibe. That thing that a musician somewhere, with guitar in hand, or trumpet or piano keys beneath his fingertips, will also tap into, composing the song, lyric, melody that will soon have many of us singing along, humming in unison. Somewhere an actor is memorizing lines that will soon galvanize us. Somebody, somewhere is unknown, but soon we’ll be hard pressed to recall the time when we didn’t know them. People who connect us are like that. We humans long to be connected to each other.

Yes, it’s true. As a nation, we’re divided right now. The right, the left, Hillary voters, Trump supporters. Politics divides. It always has and perhaps always will. But art, music, words on page, and yes, even tragedy, connects us. Connecting is natural. Division is not. Never has been. Those who seek to divide us do so for selfish, unnatural reasons. We naturally want to be together. That’s why babies and children get along so well. Our natural instinct as people is to come together, gravitate toward one another.

That’s why I love art and music and sports. It’s in these things that strangers think nothing of hugging or high-fiving strangers. It’s a beautiful thing. I know words in the wrong hands can sometimes serve to divide as well, but by and large, from Shakespeare to Harper Lee to King to Gladwell to every author who dare put pen to paper and finger to keyboard, the best of them, the good of them, connect us. Artists, musicians, writers simply lead us where we naturally want to go. So to that writer, that musician, that artist that unknown, whose words are yet to do what fate will soon have them do, thank you for plugging away, thank you for giving of yourself, and we thank God and Infinite Intelligence for your gift. See you soon.

Look at What My Brain Dragged In

Fourteen years ago I married my dream wife. She was a pretty lady that I’d known of since college though we’d traveled in different circles. She was the kind of girl your subconscious decided way before you did that your life would forever be incomplete unless you somehow hooked up with her on a lifetime basis. After college, we each moved to different parts of the country. But in 1999, life finally corralled the two of us into the same place at the same time. We married four years later and quickly bought our first home. A year later we had our first child.  Six years after that we welcomed our second child into the fold. Wife. House. Two boys. Other than my mom dying the year before my second son was born, tainting what had otherwise been a clean run of success, I didn’t have any complaints.

After the start of the twenty-first century, my life seemed to kick into another gear. I met and married a beautiful woman. I bought a house. I was blessed with two boys. I went back to school, earning my Master’s degree. I got a promotion at work and one year even won an employee of the year award and the $1000 bonus check and company paid expensive dinner that accompanied it. My 401K was rising steadily. My industry, insurance, seemed recession-proof, surviving the 2008 financial crisis without too much turmoil. Yes, I was in a pretty good place. If I was a smart man, I’d play the pat hand, riding the wave to retirement. And I always played the part of the smart man. All I had to do now was commit to twenty more years of service with my company, putting retirement off until my mid-to late sixties. After which, the wife and I would be able to travel whenever and wherever we wanted. And if God continued smiling on us, we’d probably have a couple of grand kids to spoil. It was a nice plan for the future. A sensible one. One that a careful planner like me had always embraced and executed. I’d grown up poor, in a town located in southeastern North Carolina that could’ve just as well been dubbed Barely Surviving, 28358, which was a long way from Beverly Hills, 90210. I didn’t like poor and I didn’t like taking any chances on landing there. But for some reason, in January of 2015 I utterly rejected the careful plan, deciding instead to jump off the cliff of careful and into the valley of uncertainty. Why? It was a question I didn’t directly address at the time.  Instead, I followed through on what I’d first threatened to do in December, 2013 when I told my wife about my intentions of quitting my job to embark on a writing career. She thought I was nuts and to prove it, she insisted that before I do such a hasty thing that I first request a leave of absence from my job and then seek therapy. I agreed to both demands.

I requested and was granted a leave of absence from my job in January of 2014 and met with a therapist for the first time ever shortly thereafter. Therapy was a strange experience for me. I wasn’t used to sharing my innermost thoughts with anyone, much less a total stranger. I told myself going in that I would try to share everything with my therapist at least from the prospective of what I thought was going on in my life at the time. As someone once said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Sharing was hard. Sharing what I didn’t know was harder. I ended up blaming everything on my job; although the job itself hadn’t changed in any dramatic fashion through the years. The pay was solid, if not spectacular. I had a bundle of vacation time built up. My retirement savings was slowly, but surely getting closer to real money. In other words, what I told my therapist amounted to a load of BS. Whether she knew that or not, I don’t know, she simply went with the flow of what I was telling her. So when I told her that for some reason I felt I had to leave that job, or sooner or later, it was going to kill me. She replied, “Let’s explore that.” So we did and I with a straight, solemn face told my therapist that the job that allowed me to pay my bills, enabling me to have the life that I’d long wanted was indeed slowly killing me. But strangely despite the insincere motivation behind its utterance, the statement still somehow felt true. My therapist wanted to deep dive further into my feelings on the matter. On the surface I did too. But in reality, my therapist was never in any danger of solving what had really ailed me at the time, mainly because in order for her to provide me with any tangible solutions she would have had to know me. Really know me. And I was not prepared to let that happen, especially since at that time, I really didn’t know myself. At the end of the eight or so weeks, I discontinued the therapy sessions and returned to work. My stay back at work was relatively brief. The following year at the end of January I quit for good. Why did I make that decision? And why pray-tell had I disregarded the years of slow, careful, planned steps, in order to do what, chase a dream? I really didn’t have the answers to the questions. Despite the fact that I was the one driving the car of my life, I had no idea why or where my voyage had started, or where it was headed.

My mother’s death in 2009 was an easy target to blame for my potentially self-destructive mindset in early 2015. Certainly depression is a serious thing, effecting many people, most of who are unaware of its presence as it often lurks beneath the consciousness of its sufferers. In my case, I didn’t totally dismiss out of hand the possibility that depression had somehow worked its claws into my mental state. Still, I was not convinced that either my mother’s death, or depression was the catalyst behind my decision making in January 2015. I deleted the pages of the manuscript I’d been working on for several weeks and started anew, convinced that the answers I sought were buried somewhere deep within me. My hands poised atop my computer keyboard. I started typing. Yes, I continued to miss my mother so I typed those words. As I did my eyes misted. Then, I began typing all the memories my brain had doggedly refused to relinquish through the years. I teared up again when I got to the memories of my mother, some of which were holdovers from my childhood. Her death at the young age of 60 years old affected me. There was no doubt about it. But I truly believed that I would’ve shortchanged the process if I’d stopped there, pinning everything on her passing. I was thoroughly convinced something else had fueled my decision to start on this voyage to now. So, I kept typing, looking for the theme of the memories and snatches of memories that my brain had kept on life support throughout my forty-nine years of living. In those memories I believed existed the secret for the reasons behind not only my decision-making in early 2015, but also for every decision I’d made up to that point in time, and since.

The oldest memory in my mental database is from the age of three years old. I’ve nursed and held it close to chest all these years. It’s part of a set of memories I’ve labeled the ‘early block.’ These particular memories center around the time after my parents had separated and my father had taken my sister and me to another part of the state to live with him. They’re my ‘first’ memories period. My parents separated about two years after I was born, but my brain kept no memories of them being together. But oddly, the last memory of my ‘early block’ is the one of me meeting my mother for the first time. Why had my brain kept these particular memories for so long? Why does my mind include the memory of my first meeting with my mother in with my ‘early block’ of memories which are dominated with images of the time spent with my father? Are these memories and the others I’ve held on to through the years responsible for the choices and decisions I’ve made during my life’s voyage to now? Is it all according to a plan? God’s plan? Or am I simply in my own head? Writing this book was about finding the answers to all the questions surrounding my memories and my decision-making. It was a personal discovery through an admittedly somewhat self-psychiatring process. It required visiting every memory I’ve held fast to throughout the years and researching the marvelous scientific work being done in the areas of the brain and memory. I learned a lot about myself during the process of writing this book. Some of the ‘remembered’ memories made me feel good in the recalling. Others made me feel embarrassed all over again. I was motivated by some. Felt ashamed by others. But I’ve included them all here because this process of discovery by singling out the memories my brain had decided to keep allowed me to not only reintroduce myself to myself, but also to my wife and kids. And now introduce me—the real me, to you, the reader. It was an honest, mental undressing that in its way has strengthened and emboldened me, enabling me to continue forth on my life’s voyage with great confidence and a strong awareness of my intended destination.

An excerpt from “Look at What the Brain Dragged In: My voyage from then to now”

The Mind of a Playmaker

On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter addressed the nation with what has since been dubbed, ‘the Malaise Speech.” At the time the nation was embroiled in an energy crisis as OPEC (the Middle East group that provided a significant amount of our oil) had cut exports to us, causing gas shortages and long three hour waits at some gas stations. Carter addressed the energy crisis that night, but he also addressed what he thought was the bigger issue in America at that time. I quote, “The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see the crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.” Yes, the president saw the American people as a significant part of the problem. The president added later in the speech, “As you know there is a growing disrespect for government and for our churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness, or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.”

I was drawn to this speech as I prepared to write my blog post because I believe President Carter’s speech could be delivered this week and still be spot on in describing America today. I believe we also have a crisis of confidence today. We don’t trust government. Church Sunday attendance has dropped significantly in the last few years, indicating we don’t trust that institution much anymore either. Public schools have long been whipping boys of local communities and now some people are even questioning the wisdom of sending their children to college where they’re liable to be brainwashed by the so called ‘liberal elite.’  Some believe that the divide in America along ideological and political lines threatens the very fabric of our beings. Our leaders don’t seem to have the answers. The American people in many ways appear to be catatonic and utterly rudderless. It’s as if we’re not descended from some of the strongest, hardest-working, determined people to ever walk the earth. I often wonder how our forebears would view Americans today. Would they be disappointed that so many of us blame government, the church, Wall Street, schools, our neighbors, just about any and every one for so many of OUR problems. Would they wonder why people believe that they alone can’t fix what ails them?  Would they balk at the number of people who refuse to roll up their sleeves, getting to work, claiming the lives they believe they deserve?

I’m an African-American. My ancestors were slaves, yet they too built this great nation. I’m so proud of my ancestors because I doubt too many races of people could endure the pain and suffering that my ancestors endured, yet survive so that I can sit down in a public library and type out this blog post. I wonder how our ancestors would feel at the Black Lives Matter movement. Would they too get angry at anyone, including other African-Americans for daring to say or suggest that all lives matter? How would they feel about the voting percentages of African-Americans? The high school dropout rate? The crime rate? How would they tackle the issue of black on black crime?

We as Americans have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to make America, great. We don’t need politicians or slogans to fuel our actions.  Everyone has the capability to make her or his situation better. In his speech, President Carter quoted a visitor to Camp David who said, “We’ve got to stop crying and start sweating, stop talking, and start walking, stop cursing, and start praying. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America.” And he was right. We, all of us, have the power to make our own lives better. Somewhere along our journey from colonial times to now, we’ve forgotten that. WE have to get back our can-do spirit. It’s how we conquered the West. It’s how we put a man on the moon. It’s how African-Americans won freedom and the right to sit anywhere on a bus, be served at lunch counters, go to any school, and to vote.

All of our ancestors fought diligently for America to get to this point. They looked within and didn’t wait for others to do what they could do for themselves. Americans were Playmakers. I’ll explain the term in depth in future blog posts, but suffice it to say, a playmaker is someone who finds ways to win in whatever situation he or she finds him or herself in. No excuses. No alibis. Doing what is right and just, and getting the job done by any legal and ethical means necessary. We all have an inner playmaker within us. We all have the ability to improve our own situations, be it personally or professionally. We just need to be reminded of that simple fact every so often.

Why the Republican establishment secretly wishes for a Trump defeat

Donald J. Trump is poised for a George McGovern-like, Walter Mondale-styled  ass whupping. Yep, it will be that bad. And no, it’s not only because Hillary Clinton is a far better candidate than the Donald. Although that much is truly evident. Any one who says other wise is purely a delusional, partisan nutcase, and please spare me the corruption nonsense and a reciting of the Wikileaks revelations. If any other politician faced a similar email-undressing, then he or she would also be forced to do the invasive two-step that Hillary has employed during the general election season. Hillary Clinton is a politician. A gifted one. Gifted politicians will always be assailed by the opposition for any number of supposed and made up crimes. It’s the only way to defeat the gifted ones. But that’s a story for another day. Today, we’re talking about how the Tea Party and Donald Trump destroyed any chance of a Donald Trump presidency.

To get George McGovern and Walter Mondale-like ass whuppings, a presidential candidate has to garner a sizable portion of the opposition’s electorate. In today’s deeply partisan divide, that would be extremely difficult. Nearly everyone on the right hates Obama. Hates same-sex marriage. Hates Obamacare. Traditionally hates abortion, affirmative action, immigrants, et. al. So how can the Right ever like anyone representing the Left. Well, believe it or not, the answer, is pretty easy, the Tea Party. Yes, the once upon a time fan-favorite Tea Party is the reason many people on the Right will vote AGAINST Donald J. Trump. Don’t believe me, well allow me to explain.

The Tea Party ushered in after the election of Barack Obama. Various arguments could be made as to the reason(s) behind the formation. Some say Obamacare, some say it was the auto bailouts, while others claim it was due to Obama’s race. Whatever the reason, a solid third of the American electorate was angry and they unleashed that anger during the 2010 midterm season. The Tea-partyers went to Washington with a mandate and an unwillingness to compromise on anything. It was to be their way or no way. The Republican establishment was too slow to realize that the Tea Partyers didn’t plan to cotton to anyone, and that included the Republican establishment. Top leaders were neutered ineffective in Washington, or simply voted out back at home. A Tea Party led Washington it turned out was dysfunctional and nearly destructive. Six years later, all that’s left is the anger as nothing substantial ever got done.

Welcome Donald J Trump. Although not an official Tea Partyer per se. It’s no secret that a solid core of Trump’s supporters are Tea Party loyalists. The Donald walks to his own beat just like the Tea Partyers. He’s a Republican, but if one looks closely, as I’m sure smart Republican establishment members have, Trump is a new-style RINO (Republican in Name Only). But he’s not the detested moderate RINO of years past. No, Trump is his own brand, his own man The Republican party simply provided him a platform from which to launch. And just like the Tea Party before him, hell be wherever he lands. Republicans will not be able to control Trump and they know it. The carrot-in-front promise of  conservative Supreme Court appointees will not be enough of a caveat to induce many of these members to give up power for the foreseeable future. If Trump wins, and wins his way, he AIN’T listening to anyone, as if he ever has. The Republican establishment knows full well that they’re likely to have more power and influence, and accomplish more in the short term with a Hillary White House, especially a White House with a second term election in its sights. But with a Trump-I-don’t-give-a-damn White House, the establishment will have to obediently go wherever the Donald leads them, just as they had to do in the election season when they were forced to back whatever nonsense the Donald put forth. No self-respecting Republican or conservative will willingly sign up for that. That is why on November 8, many Republicans will slip behind the curtains and quietly check the box that Donald J. Trump gets nowhere near the White House.

Trump Throws Red Meat at his base

In last night’s second presidential debate of the 2016 general election season, an angry, defiant Donald Trump channeled the anger felt by so many of his base. It’s no secret that possibly a third of the American people are extremely angry right now. They’re angry at the system they feel is betraying them. They’re angry at minorities and immigrants who they feel are changing the very fabric of the American life as they know it. They’re angry at the media and well just about any and every thing including political correctness. And no one represents the focus of that anger right now more than Hillary Clinton, especially since Barack H. Obama is term limited from running for president again. Donald Trump speaks to those angry Americans. At last night’s debate he was his base’s wet dream. The Donald was on stage, hoofing mad and pointing fingers at Hillary, the media, and political correctness, while throwing up a middle finger at the so called elite. He was rude. He was defiant. He was politically UNcorrect. In other words, he was the embodiment of the typical member of his base.

The question is will Trump and his base succeed in making everyone else angry. That’s the fundamental question. And it comes down to even simpler questions: Is their anger justified? And if it is, is Trump and his base’s way, the best way forward for America?  Also, is he advocating a system that will benefit all Americans? Is he even capable of giving his base the America they long for where every group, white, black, Hispanic, women, men et al, will know their place? Do the vast majority of Americans really want to blow up the entire American system and start from scratch? Is there nothing right about America? Is there nothing worth saving?

Now full disclosure, I’m an African American whose ancestors were slaves and considered property in this country. However, I’m not a slave, nor am I subject to a Jim Crow segregated South. My people were able to get basic rights without blowing up an entire system. The LGBT community was able to get basic rights without blowing up an entire system. Women were able to get basic rights without blowing up an entire system. So I guess the even simpler question is, Why do so many of Trump’s supporters who are angry, whether justified or not, feel the need to blow up the entire American system. And make no mistake, electing an unpolished, unknowing, reckless, self-serving billionaire is purposefully throwing a grenade into the system. Soldiers throw grenades to destroy, not to fix. When past groups were marginalized in America, they all worked within the system to make it work better for them. They didn’t rail about a rigged system or exclaim how America wasn’t great. They rolled up their sleeves and went about the very challenging job of making things better for themselves and others.

I’m not angry, nor is anyone that I associate with. We all want better lives for ourselves and our families, but we’re not angry. Trump and his crew are ANGRY. At everything. According to them, nothing about America is right and hasn’t been for a long time. Their solution is to blow up the whole thing, which includes building walls, limiting religious freedom for those who aren’t Christians, leaving the world stage and not helping our world neighbors in need, e.g. like Syrian refugees. Our angry brethren propose changing everything that we as a nation have stood for throughout our history. Blow it all up! Everything. If more people feel this anger and like the idea of blowing the thing up, then Donald Trump will be our next president. However, if more Americans, even if they are somewhat angry or anxious about the future, trust in the concept of America and believe in the idea of America as our founders envisioned, if they trust in the system that has had to correct itself along the way, if they trust in the American way, and learn from our country’s illustrious history of making life fairer for more of us, then Hillary and the America we’ve come to know, love, and respect–warts and all, will win. On November 8, we should get answers to some of these very simple questions.

POLITICS & THE WRATH OF GOD

There are few things I remember from my elementary school days in the 1970s. One was that one of my classmates, Laura, had the longest ponytails, and I would often get in trouble because I couldn’t resist yanking one or both of them from time to time. I also remember reciting the pledge of allegiance at the start of each school day. And praying. We prayed at the start of the school day. We prayed before we ate. We prayed at the whim of our teacher. As a child you didn’t think anything was wrong or right about praying in school. It was simply what we did. I also remember learning about how this great nation of ours was started. It had something to do with religious freedom. It seems as I recall, that America’s earliest settlers wanted the freedom to practice their religion. It just so happened that their religion was Christianity.

Now many years later, the question remains: Did the settlers come to America so that Christianity could be freely practiced, or religion itself. Many Christian leaders today believe that America was founded as a Christian nation only, not as a nation for the free practice of any religion. Also there appears to be some confusion about the first amendment to the constitution and Third Article of the Bill of Rights, which reads in full: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In drafting a constitution, the framers had an opportunity to name Christianity directly. But they chose not to. Why? Had they intended that all religions have an opportunity to be practiced freely? Or were early leaders like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington who although raised as Christians, a little wary of organized religion, and had purposely ensured that no particular religion be named explicitly for the very reason that ALL religions be given equal footing? Also, why would the framers insist on, by including it in the constitution, that no federal office holder or employee be required to adhere to any religious standard, or that there be a clear separation between church and state? Man, is that some fat to chew on.

There are some Christian leaders today who insist that there is a war on religion. But I don’t believe that’s really what they fear. I don’t believe these leaders care about a war on Buddhism, or Wicca, or Islam, or any religion other than Christianity. Just as I don’t believe these leaders have a clear understanding about the constitution’s mandate on the separation of church and state. Or else why would they require every candidate who runs for office to make a show of bowing down to a Christian preacher at some point in time, lest he be deemed unworthy to hold office? Some Democrats have found that even that is not enough as the party’s platform (which includes support for pro-choice, same-sex, gender-neutral policies to name a few) automatically have some Evangelical Christians questioning their Christian bonafides. What’s troubling in this respect, at least to me, (full disclosure: I’m a God-fearing believer in Yahweh) is the apparent cherry-picking of sins to hate. Case in point: Reverend Franklin Graham, son of the revered Billy Graham, has said, “America is increasingly hostile and intolerant of its Christian and Biblical foundation, and with President Barack Obama leading the fight to promote ungodly sexual behavior over the last eight years, there is now an all out war on religious liberty in the United States. Former Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann added, “If you look at the numbers of people who vote and who lives in the country and who Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to bring in to the country, this is the last election when we even have a chance to vote for somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles. This is it.” Bachmann, who supports Donald Trump, the rich, thrice-married businessman, and Graham who also supports Trump, paint a picture of an America that God will destroy because our political leaders are allowing its people the free agency to conduct their lives as they see fit.

In my viewpoint, God hates sin, all sin. No sin is greater than another in God’s eyes. In that vein, we all fall short. So if one considers homosexuality a sin per the Bible, then one would also have to consider adultery a sin as well, and divorce. From what we’ve been able to see, Barack Obama is neither an adulterer, or divorcee. Neither is he gay, or performed an abortion. He has stated he’s a Christian. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has admitted to adultery, and is two-times divorced. He rarely attends church. He’s bombastic, loud, and loves money (the Bible states that the love of money is the root of all evil), yet for some reason to some religious leaders Donald Trump is not seen as a threat to the moral fiber of the country. Bachmann went so far as to say God chose Trump as the Republican nominee. Using that logic, wouldn’t it also stand to reason that since Obama actually won the presidency–twice, that God also chose him?

I agree with Ted Cruz that when it comes to this election and any election for that matter, one should vote their conscience. I  believe in free agency. I don’t believe any country or church should put any rules in place in an effort to make a man, or woman do what the country, or church feels is morally right. The church should not try to be the government. The government should allow the church to operate freely. The church should never compromise its morals. If the church believes homosexuality and abortion are wrong, then the church has every obligation to say that and fight against both. But the church has no right to forcibly impose its will on anyone. People should have free agency to do as they please as long as it doesn’t impinge on the rights and privileges of others. And yes I am aware of the unborn fetus. To that I say, the church should continue to fight for the unborn and pray for the pregnant mother who’s faced with such a difficult decision. But we Americans are no closer to the moral destruction of our country then we were when we enslaved, raped, beat, and demoralized a whole race of people. The sins of our forebears, be they, homosexuality, abortion, adultery, idolatry, have long preceded us, and we’re still standing. To the churches I say, preach God’s word and pray for your fellowman, but for the love of God, please stay out of politics.